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An appeal for justice for local authority buyers

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Kim Franklin paints a reassuring picture about courts and the way they redress injustice (aj 27.4.00). Her experience seems to be at variance with mine.

In 1987 I was approached by a developer who had been offered Ministry of Defence (mod) housing on the Rowner Estate in Gosport for £1 million by the Property Services Agency (psa). He considered it a knockdown price, said he could 'turn it round for £3 million' and wanted my advice on whether to buy it. He was in rather a hurry. The psa had given him a week to make his mind up.

I asked him what the construction was and he told me in gushing tones that it was built by 12M Jesperson in 1967. At the time I was on the last stages of the creative demolition of Ronan Point and had also paid visits to an estate in Manchester called Hulme. That too was built by 12M. I gave him a series of questions to ask the psa and he asked me if I would buy the Gosport housing. When I said I wouldn't consider buying it with his money never mind my own, he faded from the picture.

The estate was sold to a series of developers. In 1988 a couple bought a two-storey maisonette in a four-storey block for £42,000 in one of the 12M blocks. They were first time buyers. They approached a mortgage company who told them that all that was needed was a simple survey. This would detect any major faults. The survey was carried out by a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors who did 25 similar surveys a week, as well as other work such as structural surveys. The couple bought the maisonette and moved in.

In 1991 the husband received promotion which meant moving out of the area. Because of the depression and a drop in house prices they couldn't sell so they decided to let and moved into other property. Shortly after this the supports to the access balcony failed and it was found to be such a serious defect that every access balcony had to be propped with scaffolding. They couldn't let and couldn't keep up payments. The Building Society repossessed and sold the property for £6000 in what is politely known in the trade as 'snatchback'. The scaffolding remained around the blocks until 1998.

In 1992 there was a brief flurry of activity in the press and on tv and then the story died. It was no longer news. The owners, a Mr & Mrs Izzard, sued the firm of surveyors and the MOD in 1994 and finally on 28 February 1998 Mr Justice Scott Taylor awarded them £67,859.77 inclusive of interest plus costs at Winchester Crown Court. But it didn't end there.

There was an appeal before three judges in London. All found the surveyor negligent. All dismissed the appeal, but whereas two slightly reduced the award to just below £60,000 the third judge reduced it to £4,500 and that is what Mr and Mrs Izzard were finally awarded. Leave to appeal to the House of Lords was refused. The sympathy of that court carried a very high price for them, to say nothing of the hundreds of other families on the Rowner Estate whose future now is even bleaker. They are replicated all over the country and the situation is likely to get worse as the government directs local authorities to offload their council housing on anyone who will buy it, especially if it is system built.

Sam Webb, Canterbury, Kent

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